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Friday, September 25, 2020

Before & after lunch: How Babar Azam found his way in the English sun

With a half-century on day one of the Manchester Test, Babar Azam now has scores of more than fifty in five consecutive innings and is the seventh Pakistani batsman to do so.

Written by Rahul Sadhu | Updated: August 6, 2020 3:10:30 pm
babar azam, england vs pakistan, pakistan vs england, babar azam england vs pakistan, babar azam manchester, cricket news Pakistan’s Babar Azam bats during the first day of the first Test between England and Pakistan at Old Trafford in Manchester. (AP Photo)

Babar Azam is the only batsman with an average of over 100 in the ICC World Test Championship. Since the start of 2018, Babar Azam has scored 1,427 Test runs at 67.95. Nobody in world cricket has scored more Test runs at a higher average than Babar at this time.

We can go on about how good he has been and his numbers but on the first day of the Manchester Test, he did look nervy coming out to bat with clouds hovering over and his team at a precarious 48/2 just before lunch.

The first ball from Chris Woakes was a peach which angling in sharply and then straightened just enough to square him up. Fortunately, it did not take the edge.

Fortune played its part in Babar’s next test against the fiery Jofra Archer too. Archer kept it full, attacking the stumps. With the ball moving and wobbling in air, Babar seemed tentative and despite his compact defence, it seemed like he was pushing at the ball than allowing it to come to him.

Time and again he had to get up on his toes and defend solidly, with the bat just about coming down in time. He kept getting into dangerous situations particularly against the late away swingers as he defended with an angled bat. This, in fact, led to a couple of edges as his body became an ‘S’. He finally got off the mark after 15 balls, but once again with a leading-edge towards the covers. Only once has he taken more deliveries to get off strike, and that was 16 balls against Bangladesh earlier this year.

After lunch

James Anderson vs Babar Azam was a duel a lot of fans and pundits were looking forward to. With the batsman struggling for timing, Anderson had the psychological advantage. But instead of testing him in the corridor of uncertainty, the 36-year-old delivered a loosener on the pads, which needed no second invitation and was dispatched to the fence.

In his head, Babar must have heaved a sigh of relief. For him, it is all about the touch and finding the groove. Once he gets that, there is no stopping him, be it in the subcontinent or in England.

Babar Azam’s number are pretty impressive. (Source: screenshot)

A couple of quiet overs and it seemed like he was once again going back into his shell. The ploy of leaving deliveries, even the bad ones, is fraught with peril.

However, in Anderson’s third over after lunch, a fabulous back foot punch meant that he had indeed found his mojo. The sun was out and so was the elegance of Babar Azam. He hit Anderson for boundaries in every over after Lunch, taking the bowler’s economy above four.

From thereon, he cut loose, and began being particularly menacing against off-spinner Dom Bess. In an over which had a bludgeoning shot over mid-wicket for six, Babar reached his fifty (including nine boundaries) off 70 balls.

Babar now has scored scores of more than 50 in five consecutive innings and is the seventh Pakistani to do so. He now joins a league of legends which includes- Zaheer Abbas, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam ul Haq, Misbah ul Haq, Mohammad Yousuf, and Sarfaraz Ahmed.

Pakistan’s Babar Azam raises his bat to celebrate his fifty (AP Photo)

What also worked for Pakistan’s star batsman was that he was looking to play the ball as late as possible while in defence. As far as runs were concerned they mostly came in front of the wicket, with the flick being the productive shot so far. When rain interrupted play, Babar was unbeaten on 52 off 71 balls.

Interestingly, his Test record in England reads- 88 runs scored in 164 balls with no dismissals.

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